Mike Flanagan explores his private horrors in 'Midnight Mass'

Writer-director Mike Flanagan has become best known for his adaptations of works by Shirley Jackson (“The Haunting of Hill House”), Henr...


Writer-director Mike Flanagan has become best known for his adaptations of works by Shirley Jackson (“The Haunting of Hill House”), Henry James (“The Haunting of Bly Manor”) and Stephen King (“Gerald’s Game”, ” Doctor Sleep “). The horrors of his latest project, “Midnight Mass,” a seven-episode limited series that premiered Friday on Netflix, are homegrown.

This includes the discomfort of being an author, not an adapter. “I have nowhere to hide now,” Flanagan admitted in a recent video interview, speaking of Los Angeles. “Behind Stephen King is a great place to hide. It is much more frightening. “

Flanagan has gained a reputation for what you might call humanistic horror. Beyond ghouls and goosebumps, much of her work centers on a deeply felt family drama, populated by damaged characters grappling with the daily terrors of being a parent, partner, human being. “The Haunting of Hill House,” his popular Netflix series of 2018, is set as “Six feet Under ground” with poltergeists.

Sometimes the endings of his shows and films, which offer grieving characters a measure of peace, are ridiculed by more sadomasochistic fans of the genre. But Flanagan, never skimping on nightmare fuel, believes horror can offer something deeper.

“Horror gives us the opportunity to really look at ourselves and the things that scare us, that bother us, as a society and as individuals,” he said. “It’s incredibly powerful.”

“The Haunting of Hill House” was steeped in Flanagan’s own experiences with death in his extended family, including specific images from his life. But “Midnight Mass,” he said, is by far his most personal work – it draws on some of his most persistent fixations, as well as his experiences with religion and addiction.

It all starts with a young man and the aftermath of a terrible accident. After years of imprisonment in search of God – not only in the Christian Bible but also in every sacred text he can get his hands on – Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns to his childhood home on a remote island to stay with his family. Soon after, with the arrival of a young priest in jeans (Hamish Linklater), strange things start to happen. Some seem to be gifts from an all-loving God; others not so much. Either way, a higher power appears to be actively interested in world affairs.

That’s right: After successfully facing Jackson, James, and King, Flanagan takes on God.

At first glance, the series’ quiet island community seems a far cry from the spooky mansions of “Haunting”. In fact, “Midnight Mass” – which also stars “Haunting” actors Henry Thomas and Kate Siegel, Flanagan’s wife – draws on many of the same concerns of this series in its questioning of theology and religion. faith.

“When you talk about the afterlife and the soul, you talk about ghosts,” Flanagan said. “We can’t help but be drawn to the idea that death is not the end for us, and that we are going to see the people we have lost again. This idea is one of the things that interested me in horror in the first place, and it is as much behind our religions as it is behind our horror fiction. “

It first presented “Midnight Mass” as a TV show in 2014. “Everyone transmitted it, including Netflix,” he said. Before that, it was an unfinished movie script, and before this an attempt at a novel. “Midnight Mass” has appeared as a prop in Flanagan’s films “Hush” and “Gerald’s Game,” its own way of keeping the idea alive over the years. (He would say to curious crew members, “This is the best project I will ever do.”)

But the origins of the series go back much further. This reflects Flanagan’s experience when, after what he describes as a healthy Catholic education – including 12 years as an altar boy – he finally read the Bible and felt the scales drop from his eyes.

“I was shocked to understand for the first time how this is a truly strange book,” he said. “There were so many ideas that I had never heard before in church, and the violence of the Old Testament God is terrifying! Slaughter babies and drown the earth! It really struck me that I didn’t know my faith at that time.

Like Riley, Flanagan has spent years studying various religions. In the end, the books that spoke to him the most espoused atheism, rationalism, and science – books by Samuel Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan. “I had more of a spiritual reaction to reading ‘Pale Blue Dot’ than I ever had to reading the Bible,” said Flanagan.

“Midnight Mass” testifies to his continued interest in matters of faith, including faith in its most extreme form. “I am fascinated by the way our beliefs shape the way we treat each other,” he said. “Looking at politics and the world today, many of us behave believing that God is on our side and that God does not love the same people as we do. “

Another of Flanagan’s private horrors has found its place in the series: his struggle with alcoholism. “I come from a long line of drunk Irish,” he said.

“But my biggest fear wasn’t dying in a car crash while intoxicated,” he continued. “It was that I would kill someone else and live. It is the beating heart of the “Midnight Mass”.

Flanagan himself spent much of his childhood on a strange little island. The family lived for a number of years on Governors Island in New York Harbor, where his father twice served in the United States Coast Guard.

It was a place that lent itself well to ghost stories and an active imagination. Flanagan immersed himself in the young adult horror novels of John Bellairs, RL Stine and Christopher Pike, ultimately braving Stephen King’s “It” in fifth grade. Defying his mother’s wishes, he then watched the adaptation of the ABC miniseries (1990) on VHS – an exercise in self-emboldening and the start of a long-standing obsession with King’s work. In sixth grade, he and his friends created a 20-minute backyard “It” movie. (“I’ve since apologized to Stephen for the unlicensed adaptation,” Flanagan said.)

He studied filmmaking at Towson University in Maryland, where he made a series of three talking films about love and campus life. “The 90 minute episodes of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ that no one asked for,” he said.

He knew he had found his calling, even if he hadn’t quite found his kind. Moved to Los Angeles, he allowed himself five years to set foot in the door as a feature film director. Five years have passed – twice. He eventually spent 12 years working as an editor, doing late-night commercials for cars and reality TV. Sculpting meaning from stacks of raw footage was a useful education, although Flanagan didn’t always feel that way back then. (For the record, he considers his work on “Jealous of my boogie“, a music video for” RuPaul’s Drag Race “, like up there with some of his best.)

Flanagan still worked as an editor while directing his Kickstarter-funded feature “Absentia” (2011), filming on weekends with material borrowed from work. He was finally able to quit his day job halfway through the production of his follow-up feature, “Oculus” (2014). Both films were well received, but they end with notes of despair that have become much rarer in his work.

A more optimistic view of the world found its way into his scripts after he left the editing job, became a parent, and married Siegel. Flanagan started doing the kind of horror that both freezes your bones and makes you want to patch things up with a family member afterwards.

He’s been sober for three years now. “I’ve had people in my life say to me, ‘If you drink enough, a different person comes out, and he’s pretty terrible.’ “, did he declare. “I finally got to the point where I said if I don’t change this behavior, I don’t know what will happen.”

This change of course might have something to do with how, despite all its terrors, “Midnight Mass” transmits faith in humanity and redemption. The regained sobriety is also one of the reasons why, even after struggling for so long to get the “Midnight Mass” off the ground, he is relieved that he couldn’t have done it sooner. “I wasn’t in a place where I could handle the material until now,” he said, sounding grateful.

“I was writing about alcoholism but I was not yet sober; I wrote about atheism, but I had not overcome my anger, ”he continued. “I had some great revelations.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mike Flanagan explores his private horrors in 'Midnight Mass'
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